Being the Hallmark enthusiast that I am, I do tend to notice when changes occur behind-the-scenes on this network’s popular films and shows. Last year, during the first season of Chesapeake Shores, I had the privilege of interviewing John Tinker, season one show runner for this amazing show. I knew a change was occurring this season, and I am ecstatic to state that Michael Berns, the current show runner, recently agreed to answer a few questions for me as well. I honestly believe that Chesapeake Shores is in very capable hands this season (and following), and I am honored to share our interview with you, my lovely readers.
RH: Why/how did you get started in TV/movies? What kind of training have you had?
MB: I kind of backed into writing for television. Right after I finished graduate school, I created, wrote and directed two live-action, video games. In a classic case of doing what you’re not supposed to do, through a friend of my aunt and uncle, I walked into Warner Brothers with my two partners and convinced the executives that our second game would make a great television show. When the executive turned to me and asked if I could write for television, I, of course, said yes, still doing what I wasn’t supposed to do. A week later, I was writing a pilot for the WB Network. The project never made it on air, but it was a great learning experience, both personally and professionally.
As for training, I have a bachelor’s degree in television from UCLA, and a master in fine arts degree in film production from USC. I also have a master’s in education which I earned while getting my credentials to teach English in secondary schools.
What was your first professional job in the business? What are your memories of that job?
During my junior and senior year in college, I worked two jobs: I was a nighttime engineer in the video department on campus at UCLA and I read scripts for the Geffen Company. Every week, I would drive to the Geffen offices, pick up a pile of movie scripts, read them, and return with four/five pages of notes, explaining what I liked and didn’t like about each one. Mostly, I just remember how young I was, and that no one knew my age until I showed up with the other readers, all of whom were in their late twenties. After four months, we were all invited to meet our boss and my dad told me to wear a sports jacket and a tie—and I never felt so overdressed in my entire life, spending the entire time quietly trying to loosen my tie.
How did you get connected with Chesapeake Shores?
Sadly, the answer is fairly boring. My agents submitted a few of my original scripts to Dan Paulson, Chesapeake Shore’s Executive Producer, who read my material and asked me to come in for a meeting. I already knew about the show, having seen a few of the episodes, and the day before we sat down, I watched the rest on iTunes and LOVED the show.
This is my first project with Hallmark, and I’ve absolutely loved doing it. What’s great about Hallmark is that they truly love putting out a quality product, and the executives are always available to talk about the show and find ways to make it better. Hallmark shows have a wonderful, honest feel to them, and I love the blend of drama and humor that makes Chesapeake Shores work.
Please explain to us what your official job description is with Chesapeake Shores. What does it entail?
My official title is “Executive Producer/Show Runner” which is a rather fancy way of saying that I have a number of different jobs on the show. My primary responsibility, which began in February, is to develop and outline stories and storylines for all the characters over the season. It is also my responsibility to deliver all ten scripts, including all rewrites and changes. Not surprisingly, once I moved to Vancouver Island in March, it meant I didn’t sleep much. Most of my time was spent in front of my computer screen, typing as fast as I could, either writing entire episodes from scratch or reworking dialogue from some of the show’s other writers, including Nancey Silvers and Kirsten Hansen.
When I wasn’t furiously typing away, my job was to also to dictate the tone and feel of each episode, working with the directors, costumers, and artists with Dan Paulson and the wonderfully talented Matt Drake.
My job also took me to set, although not as much as I would’ve liked since it’s my favorite part of the job. I love working with great actors and watching them take words on paper and bring them to life.
Lastly, my job includes post-production as well, overseeing edits and sound/music. It’s what we’re still doing now.
So, by and large, my job includes a lot of everything… except for sleep.
I began working on stories and scripts at the very end of January, and I continued to write until the last week of production. Since filming started in mid-April and didn’t end until mid-July, it’s a long process.
Do you have a favorite episode of Chesapeake Shores this season? Can you tell us what it is and why without spoiling the story?
Honestly, I don’t have a favorite episode, although I have favorite scenes in each one. Some make me laugh, even after repeated viewings, and a few still make me a little teary-eyed. I know, I’m not answering your question, but since I spent the same amount of time working on every episode, it’s hard to choose one episode over another.
Is there a character on the show that you identify with closely? Why?
Wow, that’s a tough one. As a writer, you have a tendency to empathize with each character, trying to discover their feelings, frustrations, wants and desires. However, perhaps because I have “nearly” grown children of my own, I think I identify most closely with Mick O’Brien. Since day one, all he’s ever wanted to do was protect his children, but sometimes his actions don’t match his intentions. It’s the frustration with all parents: You always want to do your best, but there’s no one correct way.
This is the first time I’ve worked with any of the actors or members of the crew, all of whom were very generous and welcoming since I was the “new kid” for the second season. One of the craziest stories, however, is when I met Nancey Silvers, who is a great writer (and a great person too). Her father was Phil Silvers, who besides being a very famous actor/comedian, wrote the lyrics to “Nancy with a Laughing Face,” which is a classic Frank Sinatra song. In a weird twist of fate, I sang that to my wife, also named Nancy, just before I proposed on a beach in Santa Barbara. So, while I didn’t know Nancey before working on Chesapeake Shores, her father’s creativity had already affected my life.
Oh, and just so you know, Sinatra’s version was WAY better than mine.
While Chesapeake Shores is the focus now, is there anything else you have upcoming that you can mention? Are you planning/hoping to do more work with Hallmark in the future?
I would absolutely love to continue working for Hallmark. As for future plans, let’s wait and see!
What is the best way for viewers to ensure a season three of the show?
I guess the most important thing is to watch Season two, and if you like it, let your friends know. Besides that, let’s continue to chat online on social media. I’m certainly not the expert when it comes to friending, trending, and tweeting, but it’s been wonderful meeting and chatting with fans of the show.
Hallmark is unique when it comes to fan interaction, and I think it’s wonderful. Because of the show, I’ve been able to chat with people from all over the world, talking about a project that we all love. Whether it’s their love for one another or their ability to forgive, there is something about the O’Brien family that touches all of us,
When not working, what do you like to do for fun?
Well, since January, all I’ve done is pretty much work, but as post-production slows down, I love spending time with my wife, my kid, and my dog. A few weeks ago, my oldest daughter pulled me away from the desk and we went horseback riding and a few days ago, the family and I went up to Ashland to see the Oregon Shakespeare Festival which I started going to when I was thirteen. When I have a few spare minutes to myself, I love running on the mountain trails near my home.
In truth, it is difficult to determine what impresses me the most about Michael. It could be his strong work ethic and attention to detail. Possibly it’s his vast and varied experience within this business. It could even perchance be his educational credits. Or maybe even his willingness to share via every medium possible and interact with the fans. And while all of these things are outstanding characteristics and accomplishments, I think it goes far beyond any of these peripheral attributes.
The thing that impresses me most about Michael is that he is genuine. In an industry in which authenticity is a rare commodity and far too many things are promoted and glamorized for show and publicity, Michael is simply down-to-earth and committed to the work at hand. While I’m sure these are often the hallmarks of those who essentially dwell behind-the-scenes, it’s not true straight across the board. I have interviewed enough people in the business to know that not every writer, director, producer, cameraman, etc. values sincerity and candor. After all, show business is a world of glitz and make-believe, and far too many crave the limelight and “shoot the works” to attract attention to themselves. And in so doing, unfortunately, their reckless actions may induce an untimely death to what could have been a very promising career.
In Michael’s case, he comprehends his part in the production as a whole, and he is unequivocally devoted to excelling in his role. It is not about him, his comforts, or even his desire to sleep. It is about producing quality content that shows off everyone involved to the best of their abilities. And while I have only seen one episode of the season thus far as I present this interview, I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that Michael has already accomplished his goal even at the beginning of season two. And there is no doubt in my mind that future episodes will continue to meet and exceed the indisputable merit exhibited in the first episode. I am immensely grateful to the powers that be for selecting Michael as this season’s show runner because no matter what, I believe we are guaranteed to have a show that far exceeds expectations, and some of that success most definitely is due to Michael’s ability and attention to detail (not to mention his eagerness to forgo sleep).
I invite all of my readers to check out Michael’s links below and maybe consider following him where applicable. Additionally, please tune in every Sunday night to the Hallmark Channel for the wonder that is Chesapeake Shores! Chessies are ever indebted to Michael and the entire team for providing us with wholesome, heart-warming content that is a welcome alternative to the other edgier and darker entertainment often provided by other networks!